A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 4/9/00
93 weeks ago (not counting holidays, breaks, and guest speakers) we embarked on a journey through Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians that some thought would never end. As we bring this series to a close, it is time to look back and ask what we have learned. I will try to pull the teaching of this letter together in Five Theses. They are 90 short of Luther's, but you can nail them on any doors you think appropriate.I. THE END OF SALVATION IS THE GLORY OF GOD (1:6, 12, 14, 3:21).
This perspective involves a radical reordering of priorities for most of us. It is not that what we believe in or emphasize is wrong, but we have the center and the periphery confused, making salvation be about us first--our forgiveness, our escaping Hell, our fulfillment--rather than God. We start with forgiveness and then treat holiness as a kind of icing added to the cake; but in 1:4 Paul says that God started by choosing us to be holy and blameless before Him in love. Then forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, etc. were added as the means of getting to that end. Ironically, by taking ourselves out of the center we are better able to enjoy the benefits that salvation does indeed bring to us (1:3). The greatest of them is having God in the center. We should present the Gospel not first as the offer of eternal life, but as the offer of a cause to live for big enough to make eternal life attractive. And nothing but the glory of God can qualify.II. GOD IS GLORIFIED BY THE MANIFESTATION OF HIS CHARACTER.
This happens in at least three ways:It is manifested to us by His work for our salvation. The Cross shows us His justice and His grace: justice demanding the death penalty for sin, grace taking it on Himself. His power is shown by the Resurrection (1:19-22). And His wisdom is shown by the Church (3:10). It is manifested in us by conversion and regeneration (1:4, 2:1, 4-5, 3:16-19, all of the instructions for walking worthily in chp. 4-6). It is manifested through us in the Church (2:19-22, 3:10, 4:1, 11-16, etc.) It is as a corporate body, a community of faith, rather than as isolated individuals, that we are primarily intended to face the world. In all these ways, God's character is made known and He is glorified. III. SALVATION IS DESIGNED TO ACHEIVE GOD'S ULTIMATE PURPOSE, THE GLORY OF HIS SON.
As 1:4 tells us, it was the manifestation of Christ's character in us that came first in God's plan, and everything else serves that end. The classic prooftext on salvation by grace alone received by faith alone (sola gratia and sola fide) is 2:8-10, which is there not just to support these biblical and reformation views but to show us the design. It precludes boasting--that is, it precludes anybody besides God sharing the glory. If salvation is by grace alone, not my works, then the glory is God's alone. So the whole plan of salvation is designed to acheive the end, i.e., the glory of God.IV. THE PRIMARY METHOD OF MANIFESTING GOD'S CHARACTER/GLORY IS THE CHURCH (2:19-22, 3:10, 4:1-16).
This is where we realize the implications of our humanistically skewed version of the Gospel. For the Church generated by our man-centered gospel is often the last place people expect to encounter Christlike character. There are a number of corollaries to this thesis:The primary purpose of the Church is to glorify God. The things our conservative churches do are good and proper, but once again they have moved the center out to the periphery. What is the center of the Church's identity and mission? The ones I grew up in tried to make it Evangelism. And this is indeed an important part of our commission. But if it is the center, then what do we have to invite people to join? The International Society for the Propagation of Itself? Evangelism must be for the sake of something else, or why should they want to join us? Some make worship the center, and then end up perpetuating a preferred style or mood--as if that were our purpose. Only if the glory of God is the center will all these other functions be healthy, as they orbit around that and find their meaning and motivation there. The Church itself is central to God's purpose in salvation, not peripheral. This is true for two reasons. First., outside a healthy church the transformation of the individual into the image of Christ is necessarily stunted. Some good things can still happen, by God's grace, but the fullness is not possible. Why? Because we were created for community, and only in community do all the Christian virtues find expression. Because the ministry of the Church is needed to be received in order to reach that goal. And because the ministry of the Church is needed to be given by us, through exercising our spiritual gifts, in order to reach that goal in its fullness (4:1-16). Second, outside a healthy church the fullness of Christlike character not only cannot be created, but it cannot be seen. Reconciliation is one of the central themes of the second half of chapter 2. But how can we see natural enemies--Jew and Gentile, black and white, rich and poor, husband and wife, boss and employee--reconciled unless in community? The individual by himself is simply not adequate to manifest Christ. Evangelization is not complete until the convert has been incorporated into the Church. We are too anxious to get a "Decision," and then we take a deep breath and think the person is now saved from Hell, so we can relax. Oh, yes, we hope he will decide to join the semi-optional club for Believers called the Church, but the important thing has already been acheived. But Scripture does not look at it this way. The Great Commission is not to elicit Decisions but to make Disciples. So it has not been carried out when the "Decision" is registered but when the convert becomes a functioning member of the Body of Christ, a load-bearing living stone in the walls of the Temple. We downplay the importance of the Church because of our fear of the opposite error, "Churchianity." But avoiding one error gives us no excuse to commit another. The Decision is only one step along the way, not the end of the process. If these things are true, then we are led to the final thesis: V. THE GOSPEL DEMANDS THE CREATION OF A NEW KIND OF CHURCH, ON THE NT, NOT THE AMERICAN, MODEL.
What would such a Church look like? How would it differ from the typical modern American Evangelical congregation? It would not be a preaching point only with a community loosely attached to it, but a real community within which the preaching of the Gospel would make sense. It would move from the Entertainment model to a Participation model. Having hordes of folk passively watching a performance on the stage and then going home is not the NT Church--it creates no Community of Faith at all, simply a chance colocation of Religious Consumers. It would stop being narrowly focused on Decisions (after Getting Saved, Being Baptized, Joining the Church, and Redicating your Life, what is there left to do?) and apply the Whole Counsel of God to all of life. It would move from a Consumer mentality to a Kingdom mentality. In other words, it would be the kind of Church called for by a Gospel that is about God rather than Man, a Gospel whose end is the glory of God. It would be Christocentric, not Anthropocentric. In other words, it would be a Church in which everything in Heaven and Earth is summed up in Christ (1:10).CONCLUSION:
This is the true Church--the one true holy and apostolic Church. How do we get there? People are intrenched in the other way of thinking, and institutions more so. The old model has more inertia than I can budge; it has more than we can budge. But we can teach the NT vision; we can dream about it; we can work on it in our little corner of the Church. And we can pray to Him who is able to do far beyond anything we can ask or think, that there may be glory to God in the Church and in Christ Jesus, from now on and forever more. Amen.
Here endeth the Series.
Here endeth the Lesson.